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Why paperless first means people first too


By Alex Walter, Managing Partner, Healthcare, O2

This may surprise people but I believe that digitising the NHS, for all the complexity involved, will ultimately raise NHS staff morale more than any other initiative could do.

I have huge respect for everyone who delivers care on the front line. Yet while several of my friends are doctors, nurses, or scientists in the NHS or other care organisations, I sometimes find myself feeling guilty that they view the flexibility of my role, the technology I have to use, and the freedom I enjoy to manage my own work-life balance, with a little envy. I like to challenge them: in an environment that’s as people-focused as a care setting, why don’t they feel that they, as employees, are put first?

The most common answer I get from clinicians is that they feel the level of change required is simply too big. The journey from old-fashioned fixed terminals and paper to modern laptops or tablets, with seamless access to all their applications, is just too huge a jump to contemplate – at least in the short term.

I’m conscious that O2 and the NHS are at very different stages of their paperless and digitisation programmes. But I take comfort from seeing some Trusts pushing ahead quite quickly. In my journeys around the country, visiting different Trusts with my team, I see significant variations in approach from one Trust to another. Some still look at their COWs (computers on wheels) with pride, while others have moved on from shared COWs to putting a digital device in the hands of each clinician. Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust was one of the first examples of this I saw; Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust has done the same more recently. And it’s great to hear anecdotes about the positive impact of adopting these digital devices. Many Electronic Patient Record (EPR) providers have now launched, or are developing, mobile versions of their client software although, in truth, modern tablets can increasingly cope with full EPR applications without the need for application development.

I have yet to see a substantial, validated statistic that proves a correlation between paperless working and lower NHS employee sickness and job vacancy rates. But I am seeing an increasing number of signs that this will be the case.

I invite anyone who works for the NHS, either on the front line or in management, and who feels strongly that there is (or isn’t!) such a link to please get in touch via Twitter or LinkedIn. After all, 92% of employees at O2’s Slough HQ feel flexible working makes them as or more productive than traditional work styles. And my own experience of working in a paperless way has brought me a remarkable amount of job satisfaction. But I can only hypothesize about its impact in the NHS at this stage – I need you to help shape my ideas from the inside, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Between us we can really make a difference!


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